April 28, 2011

Winners & Losers

Welcome to one of our new features and where your old pal Hobbes (yes, I’m now referring to myself in the third person) gives you the winners and losers on recent political happenings.  Today, the recent redistricting by the Niagara County Legislature:

Winners
1)       Chairman Bill Ross:  Ross said from the outset the process would be fair and transparent and that is exactly what happened.  In spite of Dennis Virtuoso’s child -like tantrum about the Independent Redistricting Commission at the start of the process, Ross proved good people from the community can come together and do the right thing.

2)      Rural Towns:  The town supervisors of Niagara County’s rural towns were vocal early and often on how they wanted their districts to look and they pretty much got what they wanted.

3)      Village of Lewiston:  The Village people (that makes me laugh to write that) wanted nothing to do with Niagara Falls and weren’t shy about saying so.  They got their wish in a new district with part of Wheatfield.

4)      Dennis Virtuoso:  Virtuoso was all over these hearings and meetings and his whining led to parts of Niagara Falls combined back into one district.

Losers
1)       Rob Clark:  Clark said at the public meeting that he didn’t like Niagara/Wheatfield combined with Niagara Falls.  When the commission addressed Virtuoso’s issues, Wheatfield got pulled out and the Town of Niagara was combined with even more of the Falls.  Rob, if it’s any consolation, the people of Wheatfield are grateful.

2)      Virtuoso:  The man has gumption.  He tried to get all of the Legislative district numbers changed so his district would still be #4 and he wouldn’t have to buy new lawn signs.  He failed.

3)      Ken Hamilton:  We like Ken and believe his argument about how a majority minority district in 2011 actually hurts minority representation, but his call fell on deaf ears as no one seemed willing to challenge prevailing law.  Perhaps it’s time to recognize that laws put on the books 40 years ago to help minorities need to fresh look….the times have changed.

April 27, 2011

Save the Empty Promises

If I get one more piece of mail from a candidate for public office claiming that "I am not a politician", I'm going to jump off the Rainbow Bridge. I've got news for anyone interested in putting his name on a ballot: you're a politician. The sheer definition dictates that, if you're running for political office, you're a politician. No matter how a candidate tries to spin it, there's no getting away from it.

While we're at it, let's get one other thing clear: all candidates for public office hate taxes. And they want to create jobs. Oh, and the other candidate is the equivalent of the anti-Christ.

Seriously, is it any wonder that people are so disenfranchised? Virtually every candidate for office, regardless of the level, says the same exact thing. They're all going to cut taxes; they're all going to create jobs; they're all going to stop our children from fleeing the area.

What would be so refreshing is to have a candidate actually present a platform for his candidacy. Explain to me why he is the better choice. Tell me how he is going to cuts spending & taxes and what programs will be sacrificed in order achieve these cost-cutting measures. I know it's a novel concept, but it would sure be a refreshing change.

Instead, we get the same tired message about taxes, jobs & kids. Spare me. This region has long been the redheaded step-child of New York, and we demand more. We need specifics. We deserve to know exactly what a candidate plans to do to address the problems that pertain to the issues that are relevant to our needs.

Voters will gravitate to candidates who have the right combination of intellect and balls to say what needs to be said. Take for example Donald Trump. While I'm not for or against The Donald, he will never shy away from the "fringe" topics that so many are afraid to go after. Thus you see him leading potential GOP challengers for the presidential nomination, even though he hasn't announced his intentions. We need this type of assertiveness on a local level.

Do I want our kids to have a future in Western New York? Absolutely, but political rhetoric and empty promises aren't the answer. Let's get down to brass tacks and hear some real solutions. We deserve at least that much.

April 25, 2011

Starting Fresh


As regular readers have noticed, Niagara Times has undergone some changes recently. Call it what you may, but the bottom line is that I have not been happy with where the blog has gone and what it has become.

When this site was launched, it was to provide insight into happenings in Niagara County, primarily on political issues, and to often provide commentary on those happenings. We’ve gotten away from that. I say “we’ve gotten away from that” because Niagara Times has never been one person. While those who contribute to the blog all use the same login and thus the same posting name, Niagara Times has had no less than six people contributing commentary on a regular basis. Quite frankly, this has impacted the quality of the site.

Since almost the beginning of Niagara Times, I have received tons of email with links, rumors, story ideas, and sometimes almost fully completed “posts.”  While I always reviewed much of this, in the earliest days of the blog, I really stuck with as much original content as possible.  My reason for the existence of the blog was to let us all hear the whispers of the political class, break some significant political news stories from time to time and provide analysis of what was going on in our community.

Yet, we seem to have drifted from that as I’ve assumed additional job & family responsibilities and allowed others to dictate the tone of the blog and post on the blog. I’ve relied too much on outside content which I think has made the site seem quite shrill at times and certainly has taken on a more state-wide and national focus.  The number of truly thoughtful, analytical pieces has decreased.  An increasing amount of “spoon-fed” content from those with an agenda which I would have dismissed before has made it onto the site.

Today, that ends.  I can’t promise that there will be a post every single day as I have for so long, but the content will improve, and the purely attack-mode will cease.  I’m still okay with taking shots at those who deserve it and calling out the bullshit around us, but it will be with purpose, with thought and with wit.

Consider the new look of the site my symbolic way of saying we’re starting fresh.

April 21, 2011

Blog

Niagara Times will be dark for the next few days while some changes are made to the site. Please tune in again next week.

April 19, 2011

Bunker's Take On Obama

Leave it to Archie Bunker to provide such a comical yet insightful perspective. Who'd have thought Archie was such a visionary!

April 15, 2011

Tax Day

Republicans believe every day is the Fourth of July, but the democrats believe every day is April 15.

- Ronald Reagan

April 14, 2011

Welcome to Governor Cuomo

As you've likely heard, Gov. Andrew Cuomo will making a stop in North Tonawanda this morning at Ascension Industries on Erie Avenue. We'd like to be the first to welcome the governor to Niagara County. As far as we can recollect, Cuomo will be the first governor to visit Niagara County since George Pataki.

To the dismay of many Democrats, Cuomo has been a pleasant surprise after three and a half months in office. He has been aggressive in his addressing of the state budget deficit and he has shown a strong willingness to tackle issues head-on that have previously been taboo in Albany. While we're somewhat disappointed with the lackluster results of his Medicaid Reform Task Force, we'll remain optimistic that Medicaid reform will remain a priority for Cuomo.

As for the visit itself, it's promising to note that the governor is coming into the Senate district of George Maziarz. Cuomo and Maziarz have developed a strong relationship during their short time working together, as Cuomo clearly recognizes the work of Maziarz in reforming the former Power for Jobs program, now called ReCharge New York. Cuomo also shares Maziarz' disdain for NYPA President & CEO Richie Kessel, as evidenced by the recent appointment of John Dyson to the NYPA board of trustees. Dyson is the antithesis of Kessel, and will likely end up heading the agency. If nothing else, Dyson will help neuter many of the irrational and irresponsible spending practices of Kessel.

Cuomo's coming into Niagara County is a very good sign. New York is a big state and Cuomo is heavily in demand. He seems to understand that our area, and Western New York as a whole, is a whole different animal from the rest of the state, especially the New York City area. We have an entirely different set of needs and priorities, and many different assets, including our abundance of hydropower. We will remain optimistic that Cuomo understands those needs - a seat on the NYPA would be a great start - and continue to welcome the governor to Niagara County as often as he chooses to come.

April 12, 2011

Dennis the Menace Demeans Redistricing

Dennis Virtuoso may have to pay a visit to the Niagara Falls Public Works Department while he’s at work tomorrow to pick up a dumping permit.

It seems his 18-year stockpile of campaign signs that identify him as the 4th District’s legislator will no longer be valid, and he’s steaming mad about it.

So mad, in fact, that he spent all of Monday on the phone with fellow Niagara County legislators trying to persuade them to completely change the new district numbers for the downsized Niagara County Legislature just so he could bank on one of the little perks of incumbency: being able to avoid spending money on new campaign materials.

We realize that this may sound like a harsh accusation, but several witnesses—including virtually every member of the Niagara County Legislature and two newspaper reporters—heard Virtuoso make the following statement on the floor:

“I suggested changing the numbering so some of us could keep our old district numbers. I was trying to look out for the taxpayers. Now, we’re all going to have to order new stationery and new business cards. Not to mention, some of us will have to order new campaign signs.”

Let’s be very clear here: Virtuoso was trying to turn the redistricting process, and a voter-ordered downsizing of the Legislature, into an incumbent-protection plan. The incumbent he was most interested in protecting was, well, was himself.

Apparently the $15,075 a year paid to county legislators isn’t enough for Dennis. Nor is all the cash he receives from various union bosses, the Niagara County Democratic Party, and Niagara Falls Redevelopment. Despite all that money, Dennis has been building up a cache of dog-eared campaign signs and other materials that he has used in one election after another to put any and all opponents at a serious disadvantage.

Frankly, that he’s done this doesn’t bother us: all incumbents try to increase their cash edge. But rarely do they actually try to rig a redistricting process to maintain their cash advantage—and then brazenly admit that’s what they’re trying to do.

Who does that?

Apparently, Dennis Virtuoso. Perhaps he’s grown so used to fawning news coverage—newspaper reporters still hang on his every word and make sure they credit him with being “Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso” even though his entire caucus has been reduced, essentially, to himself and Renae Kimble—that he just doesn’t expect to ever get called out on it.

Well, we’re calling him out on it. By attempting to gain slimy political advantage from even a task as mundane as numbering new electoral districts, Dennis has shown his true color: Yellow.

Try campaigning like a man, Dennis.

April 11, 2011

Shabazz Drops N-Bombs on Obama

Well, we might as well start the week out with a bang. The following is audio from New Black Panther Leader Malik Zulu Shabazz in which he claims Barack Obama "works for white man", calls Obama the "n" word, compares him to George Bush, calls him a punk and prays for the safety and survival of Muammar Gaddafi.

Could you imagine for one second what would happen if it was a prominent white man spewing this racist hate speech? The double standard that exists in this society when it comes to racism is truly sickening.

Keep the audio volume low if you have people around you.

April 8, 2011

National Lampoon's Vacation

We'll be brief this morning. What we have to say doesn't really require a piercing, in-depth analysis.

Quite simply, and bluntly, we wish to address President Obama:

Get back to work.

Seriously. The news that you're heading off on yet another vacation (albeit much closer to home than Spain, Rio, Hawaii, Martha's Vineyard, Chicago, etc.) while the budget battle continues to churn in Washington and Libya turns into a sticky mess is sickening. It must be nice to have the one job in the Obama Economy where you apparently can't get fired at will for your lousy work ethic.

We always knew, when you were elected, that we'd find plenty of things objectionable about your presidency. We just never dreamed our biggest gripe would be that you didn't spend enough time in Washington.


Thank you for your attention. Now, unlike you, we have to get back to work.

April 7, 2011

Crazier Than Charlie Sheen

Tuesday night’s hearings on new proposed legislative districts in Niagara County produced, among other things, some moments of great levity, as virtually every Democrat officeholder in Niagara Falls came out in force to demand that, as new district lines are drawn, the men and women charged with generating a map of electoral districts conveniently ignore the antiquated notion of “one man, one vote.”

For some time now, as it became apparent that Paul Dyster's Niagara Falls was heading toward substantial population losses, the Falls political class have been haranguing both the civilian redistricting commission and the County Legislature. In fact, the geniuses who make up the Niagara Falls City Council even went so far as to pass a resolution calling on the County Legislature to award the Falls four or more seats, even though both the loss of 10% of their population in one decade and a voter-approved downsizing of the Legislature (that passed overwhelmingly even in the Falls) means Niagara Falls is only legally entitled to a little more than three seats.

Naturally, this brought out some really hilarious moments. Our favorite, though, had to be the rationale offered by Roger Spurback, who is president of the Niagara Falls Block Club Council.


Now, we’ve heard lots of rationales for lots of crazy things over the years. But as an argument for increasing anyone’s representation, that is highly questionable. Giving Niagara Falls extra representation because they've regressed so far would be like giving Libya a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, or trusting Charlie Sheen with a live, free-form show. And yet, we can't make stuff like this up.

You stay classy, Niagara Falls.

April 6, 2011

Yahoo! Expands in Niagara County

While Verizon has pulled the plug on its proposed multi-billion dollar facility in Somerset, there are still good things happening on the economic development front in Niagara County. Yahoo! announced this week that they will be expanding its Lockport location, bringing more jobs to the 155,000 square foot facility.

While we're often critical of certain aspects of Niagara County, the reality is that the community has much to offer prospective investors, primarily the availability of low-cost hydropower and our abundance of fresh water. We also have a great workforce with an excellent mix of blue collar and white collar experience. Yahoo! clearly recognized the value of all of these attributes when making the decision to locate and expand here.

It's easy to sit here feeling sorry for ourselves, especially after Verizon bailed out. We've talked about the "woe is me" attitude that is so prevalent in Western New York. So much of the negativity that has permeated throughout our community is driven by the people who live in this community.

What we should be focusing on are the many great qualities that draw companies like Yahoo!, Norampac, Globe Metals and Edwards Vacuum to do business here. Are there challenges? Of course there are. The cost of doing business in New York is still an impediment. Antiquated laws like Wicks Law, Scaffold Law, Taylor Law and the Triborough Amendment do nothing but drive up costs for employers.

That being said, we're very optimist of the direction of the state legislature in getting spending under control. While that's a great step in the right direction, we're still waiting to see what they do when it comes to mandate relief and a tax cap. Now is not the time for the governor to blink. Mandate relief, a tax cap and Medicaid reform, along with a thorough review of the above laws, must be on his radar if New York is to become a state that employers will want to invest in.

In the meantime, we need to celebrate the victories that come our way, no matter how big or small. Congrats to Yahoo! on their decision to expand in Niagara.

April 5, 2011

Bianco Needs a Reality Check

In a story straight out of the "WTF" category, Buffalo Business First has identified the Niagara Falls School District as having the fifth most generous pay scale for teachers out of 98 school districts across Western New York analyzed. The irony? The same periodical ranked the Niagara Falls School District 91st in academic performance.

91st in performance, 5th in pay. Wonderful.

According to Niagara Gazette reporter Rick Forgione, Falls Superintendent Cynthia Bianco said the district ranks high on the salary list because it employs professionals who are willing to work with at-risk youth, comply with the residency policy and engage in continual job-embedded staff development.

What a crock of shit. We've said it before and we'll say it again: Excuses are like assholes; everybody's got one and they all stink. We want to know two things: 1) That are children are getting the best education that can be offered, and 2) our tax dollars are being used in the most efficient and prudent manner possible. Bianco's rationale delivers neither. Instead, we get rhetoric that does little to ease the concerns of city residents.

What most stands out is Bianco's assertion that they must pay more to teachers who must comply with a strict residency requirement. If you need to pay more to employees as a mechanism for forcing them to reside in your community, your problems are bigger than you realize. In addition, the concept of mandating residency virtually ensures that students do not have the opportunity to be taught by the best teachers out there while at the same time driving costs up for taxpayers. Students lose and taxpayers lose.

Forgione went on to state that, including administrators, Niagara Falls had four employees making $150,000 or more a year. Bianco’s salary was listed at $155,000. In addition, seven employees made between $125,000 and $149,999; and 28 employees earned $100,000 to $124,999. A total of 217 employees made between $75,000 and $99,999 and 358 employees made between $50,000 and $74,999 during the 2009-10 school year.

Spending per pupil in Niagara Falls was listed at $17,119 for the 2008-09 school year. Nearly 29 percent of the district’s budget was devoted to teacher salaries, with an additional 12 percent for health benefits that same academic year. That's 41% of the district's budget being devoted to the compensation of teachers. That figure does not take into consideration the compensation of administrators, so it's probably safe to assume that the percentage goes well over 50% after adding those costs in. Think about that - less than half of every dollar spent on educating students in Niagara Falls actually goes to programs to educate students.

The bottom line is that we, the taxpayers, demand better. School administrators must come to the realization that we cannot and will not continue to subsidize a failed system that rewards incompetency. We certainly will not accept lame excuses for their repeated failures, as in the case of Bianco, while attempting to justify their existence and sickeningly bloated salary and compensation packages. Bianco needs to step up, tell the truth, and present a plan to address both student performance and taxpayer frustration. Otherwise, keep your mouth shut - we don't want to hear it.

April 4, 2011

Memo to Paul: Hope is Not a Budget Strategy

Mayor Paul A. Dyster said he’s concerned, too. “We hope as the economy recovers, the amount collected will go up, so that our sales tax percentage gets a buffer,” he said.

In case you didn't read today's Buffalo News, there is an excellent article on how the new census impacts sales tax revenues. In Niagara County, sales tax is distributed by population. Hence, your local government population goes up (Wheatfield) you get a bigger piece of the pie. If people flock out of your locality because their sick of your gross incompetence (Niagara Falls) your piece shrinks.

So now that the numbers are out and the Falls stands to lose about $700K annually in sales tax revenue. Of course, since Dyster was an arms negotiator for the USA in talks with the USSR, we can all be sure that he knows about planning ahead, that he was already preparing for multiple scenarios, gaming out different actions for each scenario, right?

Well, Paul's strategy seems to be hope...as in, "I, myself, can't control any of this, so I just hope things get better. I especially hope they get better by Election Day. I hope people continue to think I'm really smart because I have no friggin clue how to solve this stuff."

Well, Paul, hope is not a strategy......but turning to your friends here at the Niagara Times, now that would make sense. At no charge to you because we feel bad that are surrounded by enough do-nothing bureaucrats wasting tax dollars (Donna Owens) here are some thoughts:

1) Take back the money you keep pissing away on the Underground Railroad and direct it to something that actually creates some economic activity.
2) Ask Governor Cuomo to eliminate USA Niagara Development Corporation and give the city those funds to make significant infrastructure repair and create shove ready sites. Seriously, what the f*** have these idiots done?
3) Eliminate all so-called economic development positions on the City Payroll and enter into partnership with the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency, which is the only agency with any sort of record at accomplishing anything.

There's three concrete suggestions and this is a Monday morning and we're still a little foggy from celebrating the Sabres win. I'm sure there are more out there.

Or, you could rub that rabbit's foot, look for a four-leaf clover and keep hoping.........

April 1, 2011

Hudson to Challenge Dyster

In an announcement that is sure to raise a few eyebrows, Niagara Times has learned that the Editor-in-Chief of the Niagara Falls Reporter, Mike Hudson, will soon announce his candidacy for Mayor of Niagara Falls. From our perspective, we love the move. Since the publishing of his weekly began, Hudson has faithfully followed his credo, "To comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."

Hudson is a colorful guy and could be a formidable candidate. There is no doubt that he has the pulse of the city and is not afraid tell it the way it is. He certainly has the balls to make the wholesale changes that are needed to turn Niagara Falls around.

That being said, Hudson has made his share of enemies over the years. From the writing of his book, Niagara Falls Confidential, to his unbridled willingness to say the things that so many want to say but don't have the guts to say, Hudson will never find himself on the Christmas card list of many current and former officials.

One of those people is incumbent Paul Dyster. Hudson regularly tees off on Dyster with pinpoint accuracy. While a Hudson candidacy would certainly have some obstacles to overcome, it would be fascinating to watch the interaction between Hudson and Dyster, as well as the fireworks that the race would generate. Visualizing these two participating in a candidate forum literally brings a smile to my face.

The biggest problem for Hudson would be that he wears his heart on his sleeve. At the same time, that would also be his biggest asset. His passion and understanding of what has made Niagara Falls the city it was and is today is far superior to Dyster's. His ability to articulate his knowledge should be a major concern for Dyster.

While we'd love to see the above scenario become a reality, it is with much regret that we must announce that, yes, it is indeed April 1st. Happy April Fools Day!